As Obesity Grows, FAA Sticks to 170 Pounds

By Scott Spangler on July 8th, 2009

Living in the land of beer and cheese, I  expect Wisconsin to be up there on the list of states with the most obese populations. After hearing reports on TV and in the papers about a new report from Trust for America’s Health,    F as in Fat 2009: How Obesity Policies are Failing in America, I wanted to see where my neighbors and I stood.

fat map

Obesity rates, measured in percentage of the population, increased in 23 states in the past year, and did not decrease in one. For the fifth year, Mississippi is first on the list with 32.5 percent.  Colorado ranks 51st, at 18.9 percent. Wisconsin is No. 25, at 26 percent. According to my body mass index of 30.7, the relationship between my height (6-foot-5) and my weight (259 pounds), I’m just over the line between overweight and obese.

Growing People A 2004 CDC report, which studied American height and weight between 1960 and 2002, notes that the average American gained 24 pounds but grew only an inch taller. So, the average male today weighs 191 pounds (with a mean height of 69 inches). Average females are 5 inches shorter and weigh 164 pounds.

In light of this growth, why is the weight of an FAA-standard person still 170 pounds?

In 2005 online report, Popular Science reported that FAA upped its standard weight to 184 pounds in August 2004, and that its 170-pound standard had been effect since 1938. After spending several hours with Google and digging through the recesses of the FAA website, I could not confirm this information.

Regulations, Advisory Circulars, and FAA Handbook information where occupant weight is important still use 170 pounds. Quick examples are seat restraint requirements for GA and Transport category aircraft (23.562 & 25.562), TSO-C70a for life rafts, and FAA Weight & Balance Handbook, H-8083.1.

My concern is not necessarily operational. Prudent GA pilots compute weight & balance on the occupants actual weights (I hope). To be honest, I’m not sure what the airlines do, besides charge obese passengers for the second seat they often occupy.

AL-seat Hmm, two seats account for 340 standard pounds. If occupied by a single passenger, the weight seems to work out. But what about a today’s 191-pound average male, or someone who’s past average but can still wedge themselves into a single airline seat?

Fill an airplane designed for 170-pounders with today’s average weight, and people aren’t the only one with a weight problem, and the resulting consequences. And the problems go beyond being over gross.

Airline seats must withstand 14g with a 170-pound occupant, a total load of 2,380 pounds. Put a 259-pounder in that seat, and I hope it will hold the resulting 3,626 load. If my math is correct, the additional 1,246-pound load my body would exert means I’m going places if that seat wasn’t designed to keep a 170 pounder in place at 21g.

In other words, is our growing weight eating into aviation’s margin of safety? Is it time to design and build airplanes for people today, not what they once were? As airplane occupants we can all do our parts, too! So if you’ll excuse me, it’s time for my daily hike around town. —  Scott Spangler


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2 Responses to “As Obesity Grows, FAA Sticks to 170 Pounds”

  1. Larry Bartlett Says:

    Did you look AC 120-27E – Aircraft Weight & Balance Control dated 6/10/05 ??

    has good info

  2. Caramoan8 Says:

    The only way you can manage obesity is throught Proper Diet and lots of exercise. The human body is designed for work so we should always get some form of physical exercise to stay fit.

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